Han F. Vermeulen

Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

From Subfield to Field: The First Histories of Anthropologies International Conference

Anthropologists habitually regard the history of anthropology as a “subfield,” a hobby for retired anthropologists. Yet the first “Histories of Anthropologies International Conference” (HOAIC), taking place online, December 47, 2023, with the support of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) and the University of Pisa, Italy, shows that this is an outdated view: the subfield has become a genuine and lively field in its own right.

The conference was organized by HOAN convenors Fabiana Dimpflmeier (University of Chieti-Pescara, Italy) and Hande Birkalan-Gedik (Goethe University, Germany). They were supported by ten stakeholders in this growing field, including HAR and the HOA Interest Group of the American Anthropological Association; History of Anthropology Working Groups in the US (CHSTM) and Germany (DGSKA); the Historical Approaches to Cultural Analysis Working Group (HACA) of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF); the Royal Anthropological Institute in London; the International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology BEROSE in Paris; as well as three book series: “Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology” and the “Histories of Anthropology Annual” (both University of Nebraska Press), and “Anthropology’s Ancestors” (Berghahn Books).

The European initiative updates efforts in the US, the UK and elsewhere to professionalize the history of anthropology as a subject worth pursuing internationally. Fifty years ago, George W. Stocking, Jr. established the History of Anthropology Newsletter in Chicago. He and several colleagues used the logo “HoA” (History of Anthropology) on the cover of the first HAN, in the Fall of 1973. This newsletter went digital in Pennsylvania in June 2016, to be soon converted into the History of Anthropology Review (HAR). That same year, the History of Anthropology Network (HOAN) was founded at the EASA conference in Milan in July 2016, and the online encyclopedia BEROSE was refounded in Paris in September 2016. Since then, the field has become dynamic and transnational. HAR and BEROSE have been very productive, publishing articles and volumes online and in print. And now, at the initiative of HOAN convenors, key stakeholders in the history of anthropology came together for an online conference in virtual Pisa, which produced nine scholarly panels, one roundtable, two keynotes, and many conversations. Out of a total of 133 submitted papers, 98 were accepted and 87 were actually presented. They provoked lively discussions, online, with hundreds of conversations that were managed and recorded with the technical assistance of NomadIT. The recordings are now available online.

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Online Interactive Archive: Ethnographic Monographs before Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1870–1922)

This article introduces an expandable research bibliography of over 365 monographs by 220 ethnographers working in the fifty years preceding the publication of Malinowski’s classic 1922 monograph, Argonauts of the Western Pacific, in the years between 1870 to 1922.

An earlier version of this text and resource was published as “Appendix: Selected Bibliography of Ethnographic Accounts, 1870–1922” in Frederico Delgado Rosa and Han F. Vermeulen, eds., Ethnographers Before Malinowski: Pioneers of Anthropological Fieldwork, 1870–1922, EASA Series 44 (New York: Berghahn, 2022), 474–501. For a wide-ranging discussion of this book (with the participation of Sophie Chevalier, Barbara Chambers Dawson, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Michael Kraus, Adam Kuper, Herbert S. Lewis, Andrew Lyons, David Mills, David Shankland, James Urry, and Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt), please see this link at BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: “Before and After Malinowski: Alternative Views on the History of Anthropology [A Virtual Round Table at the Royal Anthropological Institute, London, 7 July 2022].”

Those wishing to share their knowledge of further references—i.e. ethnographic monographs published in book form or of book length (over 100 pages) in the period 1870–1922 or resulting from fieldwork carried out in the same period—are cordially invited to participate. Please either contact the authors or add the bibliographical information directly in the “Leave a Comment” box at the end of this page.

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History of Anthropology Panels at EASA 2018: Conference Report

From 14-17 August 2018, Stockholm University in Sweden hosted the 15th biennial conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA). This year’s conference included four panels on the history of anthropology, as well as one session on a fifth panel, for a total of 38 papers on different aspects of the field’s history. This large number of papers suggests an upsurge of interest in the subject in Europe and worldwide. Since its reactivation in 2016, EASA’s History of Anthropology Network (HOAN) has aimed at facilitating this process, and its membership has nearly doubled since early 2017. All panels on the history of anthropology during this EASA conference were convened by members of HOAN; two of the panels were organized under the auspices of this network. Continue reading

History of Anthropology and a Name Change at the German Ethnological Society Meeting in Berlin: Conference Report

The 12th History of Anthropology workshop took place during the biannual conference of the German Ethnological Society (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde, DGV) at the Free University of Berlin on October 5, 2017. Convened around the theme “From the History of Anthropology to its Future: Historical, Moral, and Political Affinities,” the workshop was organized by Peter Schweitzer (Vienna, Austria) and the present author. It featured seven papers out of sixteen submissions, as well as a keynote address (see program under “Workshop 17”). Continue reading

Editors’ Introduction: Fields, Furrows, and Landmarks in the History of Anthropology

In 1973, the first issue of the History of Anthropology Newsletter opened with a statement of purpose from the editorial committee, called “Prospects and Problems,” by George Stocking. The editors were self-consciously defining and claiming a field. They let loose with territorial metaphors: occupation, soil, furrows, forays. Now, as we continue our relaunch of HAN, we return to this 40-year-old manifesto as a starting point for thinking about the past, present, and future of the field.

The 1973 essay noted a sense of disciplinary crisis as a spur to growth; it asked whether this history should be done by anthropologists, intellectual historians on “one-book forays,” by “anthropologists manqué,” or by a new generation of interdisciplinarians; it announced the need for “landmarks” including lists of archival holdings, bibliographic aids, research in progress, recent publications—which HAN would provide. It ended with a call for participation from readers.

Seeking to continue HAN’s role as a site for debating the field’s present state and shaping its future, in late 2016 we invited a series of scholars from various fields to respond to this manifesto. In February 2017, eight distinguished authors responded with generosity, insight, experience, good humor—and impressive speed. Continuing our reappraisal of Stocking’s inaugural editorial statement, in August 2017 we added nine additional surveys of the field’s potential terrain. These contributions covered new ground, unearthed skepticisms, and sowed a set of new questions. Now, in October 2017, we close the series with a third set of reflections from an impressive group of early career scholars. They imply a rich future for the study of anthropology’s past.

We encourage HAN readers and subscribers to make use of the comments section to respond to individual pieces, or to the section as a whole. Dig in and leave a mark.

This editorial was originally published on February 1, 2017. It was updated on August 15, 2017 and on October 21, 2017.

Special Focus: Fields, Furrows, and Landmarks in the History of Anthropology

Read the full Focus Section here.

History of Anthropology Panels at the 14th Biennial EASA Conference, Milan, Italy, July 20-23, 2016 and the Refounding of HOAN

The 14th biennial EASA conference was held at the University of Milano-Bicocca from July 20-23, 2016. Framed around the topic “Anthropological Legacies and Human Futures,” the conference included two panels on themes in the history of anthropology. The first panel was convened by David Shankland (Royal Anthropological Institute, London, UK) and Aleksandar Boskovic (University of Belgrade/Institute of Social Sciences, Belgrade, Serbia); the second by Andrés Barrera-González (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain) and Han F. Vermeulen. The second panel was the official panel of the Europeanist network for this conference. The panels were attended by between 30 and 40 people and received positive reactions. Based on the success of the conference, plans were made to publish one or more volumes. Subsequently, a network devoted to the history of anthropology (HOAN) was refounded (see below). Continue reading

History of Anthropology: Why, How, and For Whom?

Under the title “Why History of Anthropology and Who Should Write It?” the History of Anthropology Working Group of the German Anthropological Association (DGV) organized a two-day conference on “Cultural and Social Anthropology and its Relation to its own History and to the Historical Sciences” at the University of Vienna (Austria) on December 9–10, 2016. Peter Schweitzer, Marie-France Chevron, and Peter Rohrbacher, staff members of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna, convened the conference. The central questions they formulated were: (1) “To what end should a history of anthropology be written,” (2) Is there “a ‘best practice’ for this form of historiography,” and (3) “For whom should a history of anthropology be written”? Continue reading

The History of Anthropology Between Expansion and Pluralism

The history of anthropology is coming of age as a worldwide pursuit. After its early stages in the 1960s and 1970s with the Conference on the History of Anthropology (1962), inspired by A. Irving Hallowell and sponsored by the Social Science Research Council in New York, and the History of Anthropology Newsletter (HAN), published by an editorial committee of seven and edited by George W. Stocking, Jr. in Chicago from 1973 on, the field has clearly expanded both in the USA and elsewhere. The digital HAN, launched as a website in June 2016, counts 350 subscribers and the History of Anthropology Interest Group of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) has 175 members. The World Anthropologies Network (WAN), founded in Brazil in 2002–03, focuses on non-hegemonic histories of anthropology. In France there was sufficient interest to publish the journal Gradhiva twice a year from 1986 on; an online encyclopedia on the history of anthropology and ethnography, named Bérose, is now being restructured by a founding team of 15 researchers and is expanding internationally to include new collaborators. In the United Kingdom the Royal Anthropological Institute is investigating its history by means of annual conferences and plans to publish four volumes. In the German-speaking countries a Working Group on the History of Anthropology has been meeting within the German Anthropological Association biannually from 1993 on. In Russia some 30 scholars regularly present papers on the subject during the biannual congresses of Russian ethnographers and anthropologists. In Europe as a whole the newly founded History of Anthropology Network (HOAN) was established within the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) in November 2016; it now has 85 members and counting. Continue reading